This is not a Cat Blog. However...
The New England Journal of Medicine got the MSM’s attention recently.
Dr. David M. Dosa, a geriatrician in Rhode Island, reports on a resident at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence. This is not a human resident, nor is he elderly.
Oscar is a cat whose sanctuary is the physician’s charting room. He sleeps there between making his rounds of the patients, assessing their current state of health. Evidently, it’s not that Oscar particularly likes dementia -
In the distance, a resident approaches. It is Mrs. P., who has been living on the dementia unit’s third floor for 3 years now. She has long forgotten her family, even though they visit her almost daily. Moderately disheveled after eating her lunch, half of which she now wears on her shirt, Mrs. P. is taking one of her many aimless strolls to nowhere. She glides toward Oscar, pushing her walker and muttering to herself with complete disregard for her surroundings. Perturbed, Oscar watches her carefully and, as she walks by, lets out a gentle hiss, a rattlesnake-like warning that says “leave me alone.” She passes him without a glance and continues down the hallway. Oscar is relieved…
Instead, he seems to have a particular affinity for the dying, and he stays with them in their final hours.
For the average American, fearful and avoidant of death, Oscar’s calling must seem ghoulish. To me, it seems a blessing to staff and families alike:
Making his way back up the hallway, Oscar arrives at Room 313. The door is open, and he proceeds inside. Mrs. K. is resting peacefully in her bed, her breathing steady but shallow. She is surrounded by photographs of her grandchildren and one from her wedding day. Despite these keepsakes, she is alone. Oscar jumps onto her bed and again sniffs the air. He pauses to consider the situation, and then turns around twice before curling up beside Mrs. K.
One hour passes. Oscar waits. A nurse walks into the room to check on her patient. She pauses to note Oscar’s presence. Concerned, she hurriedly leaves the room and returns to her desk. She grabs Mrs. K.’s chart off the medical-records rack and begins to make phone calls.
Within a half hour the family starts to arrive. Chairs are brought into the room, where the relatives begin their vigil. The priest is called to deliver last rites. And still, Oscar has not budged, instead purring and gently nuzzling Mrs. K. A young grandson asks his mother, “What is the cat doing here?” The mother, fighting back tears, tells him, “He is here to help Grandma get to heaven.” Thirty minutes later, Mrs. K. takes her last earthly breath. With this, Oscar sits up, looks around, then departs the room so quietly that the grieving family barely notices.
We have a skinny little cat, Lulu. The first time I saw her, she’d wandered into our church hall while we were having lunch. It must’ve been summer then since the door was open. And in short order, the future Baron had picked her up…game over. I told him on the way home that we couldn’t afford another cat, having two in residence already -- yadda, yadda, mother lecture.
She was cute. So despite my announcement that we were taking her to the ASPCA that very week, somehow I never quite got around to making the trip to town. Instead, I took her to the local vet for shots and neutering.
The two other cats, George and Moe, had very different reactions to her. George, a rare male calico the fB had picked from a litter his friend’s cat had, displayed a heretofore unknown animosity to her. The vet called him “an abuser.” He was terrible to her so I kept them separated.
Moe the Mellow Fellow, however, got on with both cats and he and Lulu had a run through the house every night at 10 p.m. You could set your watch by their exercise time.
We live a good ways from the road, but evidently George had a large hunting territory. One day he was hit by a passing car as he dove out of a ditch after some furry, tasty thing. The Baron found him when he went to get the mail.
Some time later Moe disappeared. We called and looked everywhere, but no Moe. He was overweight, though I can’t say he ate much. We used to feed him a special diet and keep other food out of his way. The Baron concluded he must have been attacked by a fox or dog…Moe never did move very fast.
Several days after we’d resigned ourselves to his fate, the fB came home on a break from college. He wasn’t willing to accept Moe’s fate so he went into the woods, calling and calling Moe’s name. Eventually he heard an answering meow: thirty feet down an old hand-dug well that had been covered over years ago, was Moe. The cover had partially rotted and he’d fallen through.
We called a friend, a fireman, and he came over to assess the situation. He in turn called some Rescue Squad friends who came over with a harness, ropes, and a light. Unfortunately, before they could do much, they were called out on a car accident. When they returned, it had been decided that the Baron was slim enough to get down the well in the harness, put Moe in a basket, and have him winched up. I’m not sure I could’ve gone down thirty feet in a dark, narrow old well…for one of my kids I would, but that’s different.
They both eventually emerged from the hole and Moe seemed unaffected. However, I think those days without water were hard on his kidneys because he began to have more problems with crystals in his urine…he had surgery (which I will not describe) and it helped. But I knew he wouldn't live to a ripe old age in his condition.
As fortune would have it, some months later he went missing again. This time, the Baron found him, limp and lifeless. His neck had been broken - probably by a passing hound. I don't think that is a painful way to die, but it must have been scary for those last few moments.
Thus was Moe laid to rest with all the other cats who have passed their lives with us in the last twenty five years. Some of them gentle, some of them neurotic, some of them seeming permanently blissed out…like Moe, who enjoyed watching the water ripples in his bowl.
After we got Lulu, I became ill: first chronic fatigue and then cancer. It was then that Lulu began keeping me company. When I felt sick, there she was, waiting to curl up against me. At the time the Baron was gone a lot on work assignments so she was good company. Neurotic, but good company.
In order to calm her fearfulness -exacerbated by George’s bullying - I put her on klonopin, a benzodiazepine which serves to calm her hyper vigilance. It has helped a lot, improving her appetite, though she doesn't gain much weight, despite putting her on kitten food. And she does seem to suffer from an attachment disorder…I am the object of her attachment. The vet told me her underlying fearfulness is genetic; inherited from the father. Female cats cannot pass on that reclusive, retreating, almost feral gene. Only the dad…
Lulu has some of Oscar’s qualities. She’d be a good nursing home cat. However, I plan to have her hang around while I recover from the rotator cuff repair scheduled for my shoulder next week. Today, I read on my chart that it's a massive rotator cuff injury. I’d suspected as much, but it’s hard to see it in writing. All from tripping over a darn rock in the yard.
With Lulu and a good nerve block, I plan to have a not-too-painful recovery. However, I’ll bet the rehab exercises are going to be something from Dante. Ugh. They haul you out to begin them the day following surgery. Double ugh. My family doctor claims I'm a stoic but I don't feel stoic at all. Maybe I'll yell all the way through this coming hell and surprise everyone.
The surgeon says I’ll be good to go by November. How cheery -- three months. Just in time to cook Thanksgiving Dinner. So maybe we’ll go out to eat and I’ll have two things to be thankful for: my newly agile, pain-free right arm, and nothing to clean up after the feast.